The Apocalypse Will Be Broadcast
I've been writing about the rise of the religious right for quite a while now, most recently in connection with the re-election of George W. Bush. Starting with my essay, "Caught Up in the Rapture," I have argued that the political impact of the religious right is second only to its cultural and economic impact, which is growing significantly:
Christian merchandising is a $4.2 billion industry, which includes a $100 million video game business. The Christian book market is particularly lucrative: Evangelist Rick Warren has sold 15 million copies of his book, The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? There are even Christian diet books that sit alongside Atkins and South Beach manuals: The Maker’s Diet helps you to lose weight by eating just like Jesus. From number one best-selling books such as The Da Vinci Code to "Joan of Arcadia" on television and "Bruce Almighty" on the silver screen, God is Hip and Hot. ... A blockbuster film such as "The Passion of the Christ"—which was condemned initially as "anti-Semitic" by some critics—has now grossed nearly $400 million. That figure does not include director Mel Gibson’s cross-promotional merchandising efforts—sales on such items as metal replica crucifixion nails and thorn-adorned necklaces and bracelets. ... [And the] 12-volume LaHaye-Jenkins work—from its first installment, Left Behind, to its action-packed finale, Glorious Appearing: The End of Days—now qualifies as the best-selling Christian fiction book series of all time[, having] sold in excess of 60 million copies in the past nine years.
Ultimately, the Left Behind series is not simply a religious narrative. It is a political one. Glenn W. Shuck, author of Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity, argues persuasively that "the novels have less to do with escaping and more to do with remaking the modern world" (emphasis added). It is the kind of "remaking" that Friedrich Hayek would have characterized as thoroughly rationalist or "constructivist" in its political implications.
Except that in this instance, the "Left Behind-ers" are praying that God will be the ultimate constructivist, and fix things for good. The fact that so many of them voted for George W. Bush as His messenger is not a comforting thought.
Well, God makes a prime-time appearance on NBC in a major network mini-series that begins this Wednesday, April 13, 2005. As Frank Rich puts it (hat-tip to Arthur Silber): "It's all too fitting that 'Revelations,' which downsizes lay government in favor of the clerical, is hijacking the regular time slot of 'The West Wing'" (the show aired its season finale on April 6th). Fitting indeed. The typically liberal "West Wing" is being replaced by a Left Behind knock-off that will merge an "X-Files" sensibility, an Omen-like horror quotient, and an apocalyptic scenario worthy of the Millennium Group.
In the end, of course, the Apocalypse is not the most disturbing prospect; it's the fact that the Apocalypse has become so marketable in this culture.